Heart Foundation says sugar isn’t relevant.

By February 2, 2011Sugar

The Heart Foundation has finally trashed the last of its credibility.

Last week, (an ecstatic) Nestle announced that it had secured a Heart Foundation tick on 44 of the 46 breakfast cereals it sells in Australia.

The line-up of tick-approved products will now include some of the highest sugar breakfast cereals on sale in Australia. Milo and Milo Duo (both 29.7% sugar), Uncle Toby’s Oats Temptations (up to 34% sugar) and Uncle Toby’s Healthwise for Heart Wellbeing (30% sugar) will join the Kellogg’s Just Right (31.1% sugar) on the list of cereals the Heart Foundation says you should be eating.

The only two Nestle breakfast cereals now lacking the tick of approval are Nesquick (31.7% sugar) and Uncle Toby’s Plus Protein Lift (25.3% sugar). But don’t worry they’ll both be tickety-boo in no time. They’re currently being “reformulated”.

Nestle won’t have to worry about reducing the sugar content while it is reformulating. You see, the Heart Foundation doesn’t care about the sugar content of a tick-approved product.

A fan of my blog shared some his correspondence with the Heart Foundation this week and it revealed some interesting insights into the process.

The Heart Foundation said:

Sugar is not a criterion because added sugar and natural sugars have similar effects on the body and based on the current level of evidence, sugar is not directly linked to [heart disease], diabetes, or obesity.”

Which is a really odd stance to take because even the briefest glance at the scientific literature would reveal that the cup of evidence against sugar runneth over.

Take for example the recent review of the evidence (published in theAnnals of the New York Academy of Science), which concludes:

…recent data suggests that fructose consumption in humans results in increased [stomach fat], [fat] dysregulation, and decreased insulin sensitivity, all of which have been associated with increased risk for [heart] disease and type 2 diabetes.”

Perhaps the Heart Foundation forgot to renew its journal subscriptions because its “evidence” proves sugar is not dangerous. If (by evidence) you’re thinking about an extensive literature review (oh say, like the one I just mentioned), you’d be unfulfilled. If you’re thinking about a series of population studies, disappointment is in your future. Even if you’re thinking of a single rat study, you’re aiming too high.

No, the Heart Foundation’s “evidence” appears to be a single graph. The (unattributed) graph shows an increasing trend of obesity plotted against a decreasing trend of sugar consumption. There’s no sign of any evidence about heart disease or diabetes, but perhaps we just have to take those on faith.

Under further questioning, the Heart Foundation revealed to my correspondent that the source of the graph was the research conducted by Alan Barclay (the chap who helps the folks slapping low-GI stickers on packets of sugar). They referred him to theDietitians Association press release about Dr Barclay’s study for confirmation.

Unfortunately, Dr Barclay’s paper has not been published, so figuring out how he arrived at the graph is a little difficult. Just about the only thing that is clear is that the graph produced by the Heart Foundation bears no relationship to the data on sugar availability (there is no current consumption data) from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (a government department).

ABARE seems to think that Australian domestic sugar availability has gone the way we might have expected it to (from about 45 kilograms per person in the mid-‘80s to about 62 kilograms per person in 2009).

But even if the Heart Foundation’s graph was entirely correct, what would it prove? Well, nothing really. No one is suggesting that sugar consumption today results in instantaneous population-wide obesity.

The science says that (one of the ways) fructose makes us fat is by interfering with our appetite control over decades of continuous consumption. The cumulative effect of this is steadily increasing weight and concurrent metabolic dysfunction (which make us prone to Type II Diabetes and Heart Disease).

The increase in obesity statistics we are seeing now is likely to be a result of the appetite disruption (caused by sugar) between the Second World War (or even earlier) and now. So comparing today’s obesity statistics with today’s consumption is a pointless academic folly (even if it were accurate).

That would be rather like looking at this graph of lung cancer death versus cigarette consumption in 1980 and concluding that there was no correlation (because the lines had gone in opposite directions since 1960). But this is exactly the scientific method that the Australian Heart Foundation has deployed in justifying its stance (that sugar is not a relevant criteria for its tick program).

That’s not just bad logic, it’s not even bad science, it’s just straight out deceptive. I guess this all raises the question, why would anyone (least of all the Heart Foundation) be attempting to prove we eat less sugar now? One glance at the local supermarket (especially the breakfast cereal aisle) will tell us that is patent nonsense, so what would motivate someone to suggest it is so?

I hope it’s not just the lousy few million smackeroos the foundation makes every year from this little jape. Because if that’s the sole motivation behind this pathetic denial, then it is a dreadfully low price to pay for the health of a nation. The cynical lawyer in me suspects somewhere, somehow, someone is making real money out of this, but the father in me just wants the deception to stop — now.

Join the discussion 19 Comments

  • We should’ve known that we couldn’t trust an organisation that tries to tell us margarine -made from vegetable oil, is healthier than butter.

  • Andrew says:

    I think the whole basis of your argument is muddled. The heart foundation examines food ingredients and their direct impact on heart health. I guess your argument should be that the heart foundation should take some sort of responsibility for lifestyle factors that lead to conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes that can, in-turn affect heart health.

  • louella says:

    You’ve prompted me to write to them. I just sent this email: “We have donated to the Heart Foundation in the past and this is to let you know that we will no longer be donating until you stop the madness of giving the “tick” to breakfast cereals that are 30% sugar.”

  • Paul says:

    The determination of the Heart Foundation to defend food products laced with fructose is simply bizarre.

    Lacing refined carbohydrates with sweet addictive fructose simply encourages excessive consumption of them resulting in short and long term consequences for blood sugar, insulin levels and thereby fat deposition and metabolism.

    To make matters worse the fructose itself is addictively sweet, metabolised into fat by the liver and disrupts the appetite system.

    Take the fructose drug test – try a teaspoon of pure fructose and a teaspoon of pure glucose and see which one gives you a buzz.

    Most of the fat clogging up the arteries of the Nation is generated by excessive consumption of fructose and fructose laced high glycemic refined carbohydrates.

    That is the reason that when the fat paranoia took root in the 1960’s and everyone started gobbling down carbs and dodging fat at every meal – obesity exploded across the board.

    The sooner the Heart Foundation (and to some extent Diabetes Australia) come to grips with the multi-factorial risks posed by industrial sources of concentrated fructose (table sugar, fruit juice, soft drinks, jams, biscuits, breakfast cereal etc) the healthier we will all be.

    The message is simple:

    Don’t eat sugar – including concentrated fruit extracts like juice
    Don’t eat things laced with sugar,
    Don’t heart eat refined carbohydrates.

    Eat low GI carbs (low starch veges, (salad ingredients, greens, etc) as much as you like
    Don’t be scared of fats (except trans-fats)
    Don’t be scared of protein.

  • I do NOT worry about looking for The Tick (apart from on The Hound) because the silly thing is on Processed Crap.
    My convenience/processed food purchases are mainly things like tinned kidney beans, tinned tomatoes, ready made plain yogurt. Convenient ingredients, really.
    Besides, logic tells us that it just has to be a money spinning marketing ploy – no need to encourage the silly buggers!

    Gae, in Callala Bay

  • innerbeam says:

    Awesome article David, unbelieveable isn’t it! Goes without saying the heart tick tells us very little about the quality of foods in the supermarket.

    Just a note on the new widget, I am not digging it…aside from wondering what it was and therefore trying it out, I’d otherwise probably ignore it. The content of it is great, but there’s something that just doesn’t feel right with it. Be interesting to see what others think…

  • Jeff says:

    I recall a song about a sugar refining company involved in another unhealthy product. I would like to test the hypothesis that ignoring emerging evidence until the light finally comes on has some thing to do with sugar. If I refine this a bit do you think I can get grant? Maybe a cigarette company would like to fund a project for the public good? Maybe if I can find a legal addiction I can fund the research myself from the massive profits. Maybe I should go to bed.

  • The Heart Foundation has publicly responded to this post (in Crikey), so in the interests of fairness, here is what they had to say:

    Dr Lyn Roberts, National CEO – National Heart Foundation of Australia, writes: Re. “The sugar bomb is ticking away dangerously” (Wednesday, item 16).In Wednesday’s Crikey, David Gillespie repeated his criticisms of the Heart Foundation. We’ve responded to these previously, and it’s clear we’re not going to agree.

    However, it’s important to know that breakfast cereals earn Heart Foundation Tick approval because they meet the Tick’s strict nutrition standards limiting saturated and trans fat, kilojoules, sodium and encourage fibre and/or and contain at least 50% wholegrains.

    The Tick is only available to companies who have passed independent testing to prove they can meet our strict standard. It is incorrect to claim that the Tick can be handed out for a fee. The Heart Foundation is a charity and the Tick is a not-for profit program of the Heart Foundation.

    We’re determined to do all we can to reduce death and disability caused by heart disease — and to do this we must improve the everyday food eaten by Australians. Reducing sugar alone is good — but reducing total energy consumption is essential.

  • My reduction of sugar has made a significant decrease in my total consumption of food, hungry feelings are back and in 10 weeks I have lost 5.5kgs and counting. I have diabetes in my maternal line…grandfather and now my mum (at 61) so personally I would like to encourage everyone to read David’s books (and the research and studies referenced) and make up your own mind…

    We shouldn’t just believe what we are told without question and especially when the population shows no results (ie less fat/salt but yet more obesity).

  • Martin says:

    I’m not sure if its corruption or just stupidity on the part of the Heart Foundation to be endorsing sugary cereals. But I guess maybe they have just been brain-washed (just like most doctors and nutritionists) by the low fat industry. The fact is that they should be telling people to eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, not this garbage. There’s nothing wrong with fat (except trans-fats), but there’s plenty wrong with sugar!!

  • alfie_talk- says:

    Brad said
    maybe a big law firm should start a list of plaintiffs whos health has suffered as a result of eating high sugar products endorsed by the heart foundation and slap them with a class action. At the very least this would expose their practices in the media.

  • lachlanlilly says:


    What can I say. Regardless of the scientific arguments for and against the effects of sugar the probity issues alone are enough to make your head spin. I see this unhealthy alliance as being a huge conflict of interest both perceived, actual and inferred which really blows their credibility out of the water.

    The cost of this sought-after endorsement ‘tick’ invariably adds to the cost of the final product and the food industry uses this effective marketing tool to increase the sales appeal of their product while falsely alluring us into believing that what we hold in our hands has an overall health advantage over other non-endorsed healthier options. However, what the ‘tick’ usually endorses does not necessarily benefit diabetics, like my husband, or people with weight issues like me.

    It’s much like McDonalds using sporting celebrities, like Shane Warne, to promote their product – the two seem mutually exclusive – the ad doesn’t seem credible neither does the ‘tick’ on many of the cereals and products out there. Looks like the Heart Foundation is becoming the pimp for the junk food industry.

    Maybe there’s a case for the government to buy the Heart Foundation’s intellectual property (seeing it’s so cheap) and start to take this seriously.

  • Angela says:

    just a note; the tweet it button doesn’t work as the url is over the character limit. Perhaps a miniurl link is needed?

  • paul says:

    I personally think that sugar is irrelevant. Thanks for sharing that information.

    Lorna Vanderhaeghe products

  • Sue says:

    I have for years saying sugar is evil and the medical fraternity will do nothing about i. There are a lot of conditions that can be cured/treated by diet, including high colesterol hypoglycemia to to name two

  • […] to use tons of sugar because food with sugar sells better than food without. Tick – sugar is not a criteria. They want to sell breakfast cereals because they are vehicles for sugar (and the margins are […]

  • […] Nestle Milo Cereal (31% sugar). You may not think of Milo cereal as a health food, but strangely enough the Heart Foundation does! […]

  • […] Nestle Milo Cereal (31% sugar). You may not think of Milo cereal as a health food, but strangely enough the Heart Foundation does! […]

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